Blog In the News

Sediment to Sky

If you have visited Potomac Science Center recently, you may have noticed our brand-new Mural Sediment to Sky, the brain child of Dr. Cindy Smith which has been brought to life by Mason Art student  Nadya “Bella” Steare, under the auspices of “Murals at Mason”. This new mural is part of long running efforts by Dr. Cindy Smith to ensure that Potomac Science Center hosts exhibits that can teach the public about our research when no staff is present to explain them.   

The top or Sky portion of the staircase mural highlights native trees and the ever-present bald eagle as well as shadows of geese flying over the river. Artwork on each stair riser depicts study organisms and tools of Potomac Science Center researchers. The goal was to evoke the feeling that one was descending into to the Potomac River as they descend the steps into our exhibit hall, 

like an osprey from the sky into to the Potomac River, through the water column inhabited by fish and water fleas, and ending in the benthic depths as they descend the steps into our exhibit hall. Taking a sharp left turn at the bottom of the stairs, one encounters a wall mural, an idyllic scene of marsh fauna and students sampling, featuring many of the tools which we use to study freshwater ecosystems. 

Murals at Mason will produce more permanent signage in the near future, however temporary signage is viewable now. Many will recognize the local floral and fauna which they often spot on the Occoquan. We also suggest a scavenger hunt, with visitors searching for our various research tools, such as nets, drones, sondes, and remote operated vehicles. All of these help us collect scientific knowledge for a multitude of research studies. 

We are very pleased with how the Murals at Mason team worked closely with the researchers at Potomac Science Center, repeatedly providing drafts, into which we added our favorite organisms and our most used research tools, something rarely included in nature murals. Another unique aspect of this mural is that as the sun rises and moves across the river and through the windows, different organisms are highlighted and hidden in the shadows on the staircase.  

Blog In the News

Alumni Success: Wren’s Story

Written by Wren Bell, class of 2022

Hi, my name is Wren Bell and I graduated from Mason in December 2022 with a major in environmental science and policy concentrating on ecological science with minors in conservation studies and computer science.

I first got interested in stream ecology when we watched a video showing a stream scientist standing in waders, chest deep in the stream, in Dr. Smith’s Biomes and Human Dimension’s class. She said, “This is my lab, in the water” and I said to myself “That’s what I want my future to be” After that, I took Dr. Fowler’s Aquatic Invertebrate Ecology class, and that confirmed for me that I wanted work with these amazing organisms. Our class went out to Cape Charles where we collected red algae, and it had a diversity of invertebrates like isopods, crabs, and worms living on it. It was like each piece had its own tiny ecosystem. It was such a great experience to see how much life is actually out there and even the tiniest creatures need to be protected. They are such foundational parts of our ecosystems that most people don’t ever think about. In my microbiology class with Dr. Salerno, we swabbed random areas in our building and put it on streak plates. It was so cool to use techniques that can highlight so much life that is invisible to our eyes. 

I am now working for Prince William County’s Watershed Management Division as a field technician. We go out and monitor restored and unrestored streams, looking at macroinvertebrates, structure, stream chemistry, and sometimes we do wetland delineations. Using professional equipment, meeting with county stakeholders, and getting paid to play with bugs, is just so awesome! 

Wren teaches students how to ID macroinvertebrates

When I was a kid, we didn’t learn much outdoors or have programs like PEREC’s Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience, with whom I’m also working with part-time. I want kids to know how amazing the earth is, and that they too can get paid to do stuff in the streams and not all jobs require sitting in an office all day. 

Also, I’ve always advocated for people with disabilities, especially people like me who rely on mobility devices to get around. I want them to see me doing this job. I am very visible with my disability because I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work in these fields. Because I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user, which means I can still walk, I do not always need my wheelchair. This gives me the privilege and access to many opportunities that would ordinarily be closed off to a full-time wheelchair user. I want others to know that they too can be a scientist or ecologist, regardless of physical ability. I am working to make these jobs more accessible for everyone and spread awareness that disabled people are still extremely valuable to the environmental movement. Workplaces not only need to make their positions accessible to those with disabilities but be openly welcoming to them as well. I’ve talked with many disabled people who feel like environmental science is completely inaccessible to them, despite their passion and interest. But there are so many ways to get involved that can be tailored to your specific needs and limitations.

You don’t have to be able to run a long distance or trek through a mountainside to be an environmentalist. The only requirement is passion. 

Blog In the News

Preston Chester Caruthers (January 18, 1927-January 1, 2023) and the birth of Potomac Science Center, home of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center

Written by Dr. Chris Jones

On New Year’s Day this year, the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center lost an important ally who was with us from the birth of the idea for Potomac Science Center until its construction at Belmont Bay in Woodbridge in the mid-2010’s. This is a good time to reflect on the life of Preston C. Caruthers and how PSC and PEREC were born. 

I had the privilege of knowing Preston since the early 1990’s. A veteran developer from Arlington, Preston acquired property on the tidal Occoquan River in about 1990 and set about developing a waterfront community that was modelled in his mind after Porto-Vecchio in Corsica, a community with shops and restaurants lining the harbor. I became aware of Mr. Caruthers about this time because Dr. Don Kelso, GMU’s fish ecologist, and I had been interested for a number of years in obtaining a waterfront lab for research and teaching purposes. And I felt a special affinity for Mr. Caruthers since his life from a hardscrabble existence in the Oklahoma of the Dust Bowl days to a successful career paralleled that of my Dad who had a similar experience in Arkansas.

During the Harry Diamond Lab base closure process, we made a pitch for the lab at the tip of the Occoquan peninsula, but it was awarded to the Fish and Wildlife Service because Federal agencies had priority to pick up property from military base closures. However, the legislation that transferred the property to FWS had an interesting clause in it: “There should be an environmental science facility for research and teaching on the peninsula.” Thus, we felt encouraged to seek other nearby locations for the recommended facility. 

We retained our interest in the area and our relationship with Preston, but building funds were not forthcoming. Then the Science Museum of Virginia (SMV) came into the picture and we were encouraged to partner with them in a new facility on the river which would have overlooked the water and been only a few hundred yards from where our building was eventually built. They came in big time with a large public science center proposal complete with a team of consultants to help develop exhibits. With money from the Caruthers family, SMV set up a foundation to help move the effort forward to which Mason contributed space for offices at the Sci Tech campus. As the plans evolved, an MOU was signed between Mason and SMV near the end of 2003. Mason was going to lease 35,000 sq.ft. including specially designed labs, offices and classrooms for aquatic ecology education and research. Things went well for a couple of years and then it was revealed that the SMV was broke and the museum project in Woodbridge was cancelled. We were of course extremely disappointed. But we were encouraged by many to keep trying. The university put together a team from Facilities Planning to spec out our own building, the beginning of Potomac Science Center. By 2008 faculty that would go to PEREC were holding retreats to map out the research and teaching plans at PSC.

While that seemed encouraging, where were we going to find $35 million? Preston wanted us to be at Belmont Bay, but he didn’t have $35 million to play with either. So we looked to the General Assembly of Virginia, who provides funding for university buildings. The university put PSC in their budget requests, but when push came to shove, there were always things more needy in the Mason administration’s mind. That’s where State Senator Charles Colgan who represented Prince William County came in. Senator Colgan was a senior member of the Senate Budget committee and legend has it that in the final hours of budget negotiations, a horse trade occurred. A senator in another part of the state wanted something and Senator Colgan said let’s give you what you want and that just about equals the PSC proposal of Mason so let’s make a swap and PSC was on its way to Preston Caruthers’ Belmont Bay. 

Of course, there were many others who were crucial at getting this facility, but Mr. Caruthers was there at the beginning and stayed with us through the building opening. And this was all in a day’s work for him as he was involved in may educational initiatives during his public spirited life, including serving on Mason’s Board of Visitors and the Board of Education of the Commonwealth. He was also significant philanthropic supporter of many educational efforts including the Arlington County Public Schools Planetarium and Marymount University.

Preston Caruthers and his family joined Mason senior leadership and state legislators in Spring 2018 for the official opening celebration and dedication of the Potomac Science Center.  He was 91 years old and his health was declining, but his renowned spirited demeanor was evident, and his pride in this accomplishment – more than 25 years in the making – was clear.


Water Jobs List

Need a job? Looking for an internship for the summer? The Virginia Water Resources Research Center’s new Job Board at could help you. View the list of current job announcements we’ve received or join our Water Jobs Google Group to receive emails with current job listings. The website also includes links to sites with career resources. The site provides information for those looking for work in Virginia as well as those looking for work beyond the Commonwealth’s border.

Join the Google Group here:


Job Alert: Director of the Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership and ASMFC Habitat Committee Coordinator

Applications due January 27, 2023.

Blog Education

Work Study Program

Virginia Conservation Fellowship (VCF) at University of Mary Washington

A prestigious, selective, year-long work/study program for juniors/seniors of color and other groups underrepresented in Virginia environmentalism. Open to both GMU and University of Mary Washington students. Apply by February 15, 2023.

See details here:

Blog In the News

Don Kelso Learning Pier

The Mr. Rodgers of Ecology is what a colleague suggested that Dr. Don Kelso be called due to his engaging, easy-going nature and passion for connecting students to aquatic ecosystems. We are thrilled that Dr. Kelso was honored at the naming ceremony during the Don Kelso Learning Pier kick off event. This pier will allow students and researchers direct access to the Occoquan river from Potomac Science Center, which Dr. Kelso, along with Dr. Chris Jones, worked tirelessly for two decades to start. Dr. Kelso was the first freshwater ecologist in the College of Science and this pier is just one way that his passion for science communication, outreach, and education can be achieved.

Learn more about Dr. Kelso at the following links:

and Learn more about the pier here:

The kick-off event at Potomac Science Center

New trail links Belmont Bay to Veterans Park

After nearly 20 years of planning and work at multiple levels of government, Prince William is now home to the newest segment of the historic Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail — an 800-mile network of locally managed trails along the Potomac River.

The new segment, while only 1 mile long, is a key part of the trail because it finally connects the eastern Woodbridge community of Belmont Bay to Veterans Memorial Park via the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The addition is part of a trail segment that will eventually connect Mount Vernon with Quantico. Read more.

Blog In the News

New Mural at Potomac Science Center

TakerOne, a visiting artist from Hungary, creates a mural entitled, “Fauna of Belmont Bay” at George Mason University’s Potomac Science Center featuring wildlife native to the Potomac River, in Prince William County. photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

There is a brand new mural at Potomac Science Center! The mural was painted by TakerOne, an artist who hails from Hungary.

New mural at Mason’s Potomac Science Center highlights native species

There’s a guy spray-painting a wall in the Belmont Bay area of Woodbridge, Virginia, and the community members couldn’t be happier.

The guy is international graffiti artist TakerOne, and the wall he is working on belongs to George Mason University’s Potomac Science Center. His mural, “Fauna of Belmont Bay,” is part of the Murals at Mason’s larger eco-consciousness mural series titled Elements, and the result of a university-community partnership.

In the “Fauna of Belmont Bay,” the muralist and street artist from Budapest, Hungary, highlights four species that inhabit Belmont Bay: the yellow swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus), the tree frog (Hyla cinerea), the wood duck (Aix sponsa), and the North American river otter (Lontra canadensis). Read more.

New Belmont Bay mural showcases wildlife native to the Potomac

On his website, TakerOne says he wants people to stop and say “wow” when they see his work. His goal is to add color to gray cities and to “beautify our built environment” on a grand scale. Last week, TakerOne began creating a mural on the science center’s parking garage that highlights the biodiversity of the Potomac River one spray can at a time. Read more.

Blog In the News

Future Potomac Science Center Pier Named in Honor of Dr. Don Kelso

When Dr. Don Kelso joined the Mason faculty in 1970, both the university, and the field of environmental science, were just getting started. A pioneering aquatic ecologist, Kelso remained a fixture within the Department of Biology, and Mason, for the next 35 years until retiring in 2006.

A mentor and friend to hundreds of students, he was a key figure in establishing the PhD program in Environmental Science and Public Policy in 2000, the first PhD program in the sciences at Mason and the first doctoral program of its kind in the country.

Now a group of Kelso’s former students have united to honor his legacy at the Potomac Science Center, the waterfront environmental research center that Kelso played a central role in establishing.

On May 22, a group of over 30 former students, colleagues, and family gathered with Kelso at the Potomac Science Center to celebrate and thank him for his positive influence on their lives. They also kicked off a campaign to fund and build the Don Kelso Learning Pier.

Read More